Magnifying glass needed to find most racing news

Nov 22, 2005 2:45 AM

Back in the 30s, racing was all the rage.

In newspapers across America, headlines screamed of "Seabiscuit," who competed with Ruth and DiMaggio, Dempsey and Louis, Army and Navy and the Monsters of the Midway.

Seven decades later, the game has become a public relations pariah, not even deemed worthy of sharing equitable space with non-traditional and contrived sports that are force-fed upon the public, such as X-Games, Arena football, motor sports, seniors golf and women’s basketball. These days, nary a noteworthy word about racing appears in mainstream print or is mentioned by the so-called electronic media unless it relates to the Triple Crown, the Breeders’ Cup or is scandalous in nature. The news chasm is wider than Hillary Clinton’s hips.

You can’t get a race result on radio anymore. A few years ago, the two biggest news stations in LA gave results every half-hour, one featuring taped stretch calls by the track announcer. Used to be not long ago several stations broadcast live feature race calls, with a summary of the day’s earlier results. Forget that. They have gone the way of pegged pants.

Present technology is such that anyone with access to a computer can go online and get results in a flash, faster than they could on radio. Recently the Los Angeles Times, a world-class newspaper with a penchant for political correctness, abruptly discontinued from major Southern California tracks their detailed race charts, which lists horse-by-horse finish, odds, margins, jockeys, etc.

Intense lobbying by persistent race track PR people helped return the charts to their previous standing in the Times, which has found an alternate way to skin this cat presently on its ninth life. Instead of skimping from the tiny agate type of race results, the Times has dramatically pared across-the-board racing news that appears in larger type.

Part of the problem could be economic. Last Wednesday, the Times announced "it planned to eliminate about 85 newsroom jobs and an undetermined number of positions elsewhere”¦to reduce costs in the face of sluggish circulation and advertising sales."

It has come to this: in the Nov. 14 editions, racing news was reduced to two—count ”˜em—two sentences buried in the "Newswire" segment. Granted, reports on insignificant and obscure events such as the Skirball-Kenis Stakes and the Bien Bien Stakes will never be confused with the Kentucky Derby, but the Times also relegated racing news to the same placement before and after the Nov. 6 California Cup, one of the most popular events on the racing calender in the Golden State.

Yet allotted space is unfailingly devoted to the Los Angeles Clippers, which have never won a championship and generate major news on the rare occasion that it reaches the NBA playoffs. This decree holds forth despite the fact that Sports Illustrated not long ago listed the Clippers as the worst franchise in sports history. Of course, outside of Las Vegas and a few other outposts, there is no legal wagering on the Clippers.

And therein lies the crux of the matter, according to old-timer George Williams.

"Years ago, racing was a spectator sport," said the 77-year-old Williams, a native of Ireland who got his trainer’s license in 1961. "People would come out to watch the horses and watch the people, too. There was a lot of time between races to visit with friends. Today racing is strictly a gambling sport. This is Las Vegas now. A bettor can watch TV monitors from eight different tracks at the same time. As soon as the tracks went to simulcasting and stretching out the races, that’s where the game ended. I saw it happen in England when I was over there."

Well and good, but why is racing an orphan on the sports pages?

"The problem is when we find a superstar horse, it doesn’t stay around long enough," Williams said. "You just can’t keep writing about jockeys. Super horses don’t race that long because there’s year-round racing, so they don’t get time off and customers don’t get time off, either. But the problem is that racing today is strictly a gambling sport."

So don’t hold your breath until racing receives space and placing similar to days of yore. The current powers-that-be apparently view racing as sports’ ugly cousin, a game that exists solely to serve a dwindling band of seedy and unsavory characters who depend on legalized gambling for their daily sustenance.

Betting legally on a noble and giving thoroughbred is judged more nefarious than wagering illegally on mainstream sports such as football, baseball and basketball. At least it would seem that way in the eyes of today’s sports and assignment editors and/or their superiors.

With apologies to Bob Dylan, the Times, they are a changin’.

The homestretch

”¡ Pat Valenzuela and agent Ron Ebanks reportedly split due to lack of communication on business matters. In the past, P. Val has insisted on solitary representation, so how long the oft-suspended rider will sit still for his new agent, Tom Knust, is open to discussion, since Knust also books mounts for steady and straight-laced Jon Court, and would not likely part with him should his hand be forced.

”¡ The Eagles were victims of ABC’s GKOD last Monday night—the Graphics Kiss of Death—in their incomprehensible 21-20 loss to the Cowboys. At the start of the second half, a graphic showed the Eagles had won 22 straight games after leading at halftime. At the start of the third quarter, another showed the Eagles had won 36 consecutive games when leading after three quarters. Donovan "McStabb" took care of that in the waning minutes with a perfect interception toss into the hands of a surprised Dallas defender. I don’t question the courage of McStabb, who has played despite being damaged goods. But if he undergoes a physical, the first thing that should be examined is his eyesight.